02 Dec 2021, 10:45

United States is world's biggest plastic polluter, report finds

   WASHINGTON, Dec 2, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The United States is by far the
biggest contributor to global plastic waste in the world, according to a new
report submitted to the federal government Wednesday that called for a
national strategy to tackle the growing crisis.

   Overall, the US contributed around 42 million metric tons (MMT) in plastic
waste in 2016 -- more than twice as much as China and more than the countries
of the European Union combined, according to the analysis.

   On average, every American generates 130 kilograms (286 pounds) of plastic
waste per year, with Britain next on the list at 99 kilos per person per
year, followed by South Korea at 88 kilos per year.

   Entitled "Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste," the
report was mandated by Congress as part of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, which
became law in December 2020.

   "The success of the 20th century miracle invention of plastics has also
produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we
look," wrote Margaret Spring, chief science officer of Monterey Bay Aquarium,
who chaired the committee of experts that compiled the report.

   She added global plastic waste was an "environmental and social crisis"
that impacted inland and coastal communities, polluted rivers, lakes and
beaches, placed economic burdens on communities, endangered wildlife and
contaminated waters that humans depend on for food.

   Global plastic production rose from 20 million metric tons in 1966 to 381
MMT in 2015, a 20-fold increase over half a century, the report said.

   Initially, attention to ocean waste focused solely on ship and marine-
based sources, but it is now known that almost any plastic on land has the
potential to reach the oceans via rivers and streams, the report added.

   Research has shown nearly a thousand species of marine life are
susceptible to plastic entanglement or to ingesting microplastics, which then
make their way through the food web back to humans.

   The report said an estimated 8 MMT of plastic waste enters the world
annually, "the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into
the ocean every minute."

   At the current rate, the amount of plastics discharged into the ocean
could reach up to 53 MMT per year by 2030, roughly half of the total weight
of fish caught from the ocean annually, it said.

   Part of the reason is that while the generation of plastic waste in
municipal solid waste has exploded, particularly since 1980, the scale of
recycling has not kept up, resulting in more and more plastic finding its way
into landfills.

   The report offered a number of steps to address the crisis -- first among
them, reducing virgin plastic production, for example by establishing a
national cap.

   - Reduce single-use plastics -

   Other suggested actions include using materials that degrade more quickly
and are more easily recycled, the reduction of certain single-use plastics,
and improved waste management, such as techniques to remove microplastics
from wastewater.

   Improving waste capture technology would stop plastics in waterways, while
stemming plastic disposal directly into the ocean itself also remains a

   Data collection is also a critical priority, the report added, calling for
the US to establish tracking and monitoring systems to identify waste sources
and hotspots.

   The authors called for the country to develop its national strategy no
later than the end of 2022.

   "This is the most comprehensive and damning report on plastic pollution
ever published," said Judith Enk, president of the Beyond Plastics nonprofit.

   "It is a code red for plastics in the ocean and documents how litter
cleanups are not going to save the ocean," she continued, adding it was
urgent that policy makers and business leaders read the report and take

   "The finger-pointing stops now. We can no longer ignore the United States'
role in the plastic pollution crisis, one of the biggest environmental
threats facing our oceans and our planet today," added Christy Leavitt,
Oceana's plastics campaign director.

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